Motor racetrack owners are waving the red flag, calling for a stop to what they say is false labeling of the longtime tax provision they are asking Congress to renew — taking issue with it's being called the "NASCAR Tax Credit."
That phrase may be catchier than the "tax treatment of motorsports facilities." But they say it is not correct, because the tax provision doesn't directly benefit the sanctioning body of stock-car racing itself, even if there are interconnections.
"It's like calling some stadium tax break an NFL tax break," protests Brandon Igdalsky, president and CEO of the family-owned Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania, home to NASCAR and Indy races as well as a variety of events for nearly 40 other organizations. In fact, the United States has more than 1,200 racetracks, many of which don't run NASCAR competitions.
"This is not about NASCAR revenue. Second of all — it's not a tax break," adds Daniel Houser, senior vice president and chief financial officer and treasurer for the International Speedway Corp.
At issue is a provision that expired at the end of 2013, along with more than 50 other specialized tax breaks. This particular one has for years allowed all sorts of motor racetracks to depreciate or write off the costs of capital improvements over a seven-year timeframe — faster than most other businesses.
Motor-racetrack owners say it enables them to more quickly free up money, some of which, they say, they plow back into infrastructure, safety, and other improvements — helping local economies and creating jobs. Racetrack owners argue that it's like the permanent tax break given to theme parks.
The provision was even codified in 2004. Still, in this pay-as-you-go era, the tax break has continued to require periodic renewals by Congress. And now, suddenly, renewal has become not so automatic.
It turns out that even if the stereotypes are true that red-state fiscal conservatives in Congress are more likely to be NASCAR fans, any such tie-in is not necessarily helping the cause for renewal, and may even be hurting it.
That's because conservatives and others in Congress are focusing more nowadays on what they say is wrong with the nation's tax code and policies — and among their top targets are so-called special-interest carve outs or loopholes.
The Senate Finance Committee has approved legislation that would renew most of the approximately 50 tax breaks that expired at the end of 2013, including the racetrack item.
But the hurdle for the provision is that the current House Ways and Means Committee chairman and many Republicans on the panel are insisting that they still want do some type of tax reform, which, for now, means not simply redoing the dozens of tax-extenders that expired at the end of 2013. They argue that these extenders need to be individually scrutinized before Congress takes new action. The House has taken up only about a half dozen of them so far; most, including the racetrack provision, have not been acted on.
Houser and other officials of the ISC — a publicly traded Daytona Beach, Fla., company that owns that city's NASCAR racetrack and another in Watkins Glen, N.Y., along with 11 other motorsports facilities — were in Washington last week trying to explain why the raceways provision should not remain in the path of a legislative drive to rethink it and dozens of the other temporary special-interest taxes.
Joining them was the Chicagoland Speedway and Route 66 Raceway President Scott Paddock.
"There are over 1,200 racetracks in the United States, many of which don't run NASCAR races," Houser said. There are tracks that host motorcycle events, drag races, and there are smaller, "ma and pa" venues, he said. Specifically for ISC, he said, the racetrack provision represents a benefit that could be worth "$10 million a year," which allows the pursuit of projects that create jobs, such as a current $400 million renovation of the Daytona International Speedway.
"This isn't just about NASCAR," he said.
But there are some tricky turns for some who are making this "bigger-than-NASCAR" argument. For instance, the France family, which owns and operates NASCAR, also controls a big financial interest in the ISC itself.
The preference is that the motor-raceway provision be made permanent, like the breaks for amusements parks, or like a previously temporary bonus depreciation provision for businesses that Congress finally made permanent last week.
That was done on the grounds that making it permanent will help businesses plan more easily for their future and manage their finances. The racetrack owners and lobbyists say their provision would do the same while also touching on economic development, job creation, and additional tax revenue for local, county, and state governments.
But, for now, they say they are hopeful that the tax-extender will at least be renewed again, perhaps this fall.
"There is no member that has said this is terrible, and I want to strike this," Houser said. "The problem is we run into mostly conservatives who just don't want any extender — they don't want any temporary tax provisions. It's just being imperiled along with 50 other provisions."
Lawmakers aren't so sure that will occur.
"That might be taken up later," said Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Minn., a member of the Ways and Means Committee, about the motor-raceway provision. But for now, he said, the committee is focused more on tax breaks that deal more with job creation and benefiting the economy.